Imagine what it would have been like to tour a Revolutionary War battlefield with a soldier who actually fought there. How did Americans remember their first battles when participants were still alive to tell the tale? In his book Memories of War: Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic, historian Thomas A. Chambers explores how people visited and commemorated battlefields between independence and the Civil War.
Historian Mary Kelley’s study of educational venues, from classroom instruction to literary societies to reading circles, shows us how and why women shaped their lives anew in the early United States. While analyzing shifts in school curriculum by region and by decade nationwide, Kelley contrasts popular novelist Catherine Maria Sedgwick’s reflections on her early 1790s childhood education with the expanding world of formal education (and career opportunities in teaching) for men and women. These academies and seminaries set many precedents for the favorite subjects and skills, textbooks, and other teaching tools that we recognize in K-12 and college classrooms today.
In the 18th century some observers described the American Revolution in terms that today make us think of divorce. America was portrayed as a woman intent on leaving her tyrant partner, the king. This marital metaphor was unusual because it empowered America, the woman, to seek separation and independence. In Sex Among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender & Power in the Age Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830, Clare A. Lyons expands on this idea, but instead of looking at relations between nations, she focuses on the changing power dynamics between men and women in early Philadelphia.
In late 1777, General George Washington’s command of the Continental Army came into serious question. The British took Philadelphia soon after defeating the Continental Army at the Battle of Brandywine. Washington was forced to retreat at the Battle of Germantown in October and the defenses on the Delaware River fell to the British in November. Things were not looking good for General Washington. The Continental Congress’s confidence in Washington was shaken. Meanwhile, Continental Army Major General Horatio Gates declared victory over British General John Burgoyne’s army after the lengthy Saratoga Campaign. If another American general could beat the British, was something wrong with Washington’s military leadership? Historian Mark Edward Lender’s latest book, Cabal! The Plot Against General Washington digs into this moment of crisis for the Continental Army and provides a new perspective on the infamous challenge to Washington’s command, popularly known as the “Conway Cabal.”
Although the term “First Lady” was not adopted until the later 19th century, Jeanne Abrams’s recent work, First Ladies of the Republic (2018) suggests that America’s early presidential wives — Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison — were the first to pioneer this role, creating the “distinctly American quasi-political” position of First Lady. Each of these women, Abrams argues, wielded some degree of political power and helped shape national identity as part of what Abrams refers to as a family unit.
There are two popular interpretations of the shooting that took place in Boston in March 1770: the first takes after Paul Revere’s rendering of a bloody, violent massacre — the Boston Massacre — while the second derives from John Adams, who, as the lawyer defending the soldiers in court, portrayed the soldiers as the victims and not the perpetrators of the event. But Serena Zabin’s recent work, The Boston Massacre: A Family History, suggests there is a third interpretation. She tells a different story — a story of the people.
Italian artist Xavier della Gatta painted two realistic Revolutionary battle scenes in 1782, the Battle of Paoli and the Battle of Germantown. Collected by the Valley Forge Historical Society in 1957, both paintings came to the Museum of the American Revolution with the rest of the Historical Society’s collections. Famous for their accurate depictions of equipment, troop locations, and actions, there was still a lot about them that was not known. For instance, how did an Italian artist with no known connection to America paint such realistic scenes while the war was still raging? Enter Richard St. George, the focus of the Museum’s special exhibition, Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of An Irish Soldier.
Harvard historian Vincent Brown’s latest book, Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War, is all about entangled histories. The book tells the story of the largest slave revolt in the British Empire during the 1700s; a bloody conflict in Jamaica that few modern Americans know much about. Brown does not share this story to simply increase awareness of Tacky’s Revolt (1760-1761). Instead, he encourages his readers to think about the conflict not only as a local insurrection, but as a major battle in a centuries-long slave war that links the histories of Africa, the Americas, and Europe.
Benedict Arnold has fascinated Americans for two centuries. The drama surrounding one of the Continental Army’s most accomplished generals defecting to the British Army makes a good story that has been told in books, films, and recently on television. Historian Stephen Brumwell’s new research into Arnold’s life, his letters, and the writings of his contemporaries has yielded the latest study of America’s most famous traitor. Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty, published in 2018, provides a fresh perspective on Arnold’s personality and his sense of honor.
Many historians point to the Stamp Act in March of 1765 as one of the pivotal events that caused the American Revolution. In his recent work, Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776, Patrick Spero turns our attention away from this more traditional, urban story of the coming of the Revolution and instead focuses on the western American frontier. He argues that in order to understand the origins of the American Revolution, we must move beyond events like the Stamp Act and study the central role the frontier played in shaping opposition against the British Empire.